Adventure in Desert

5 min
Runner up

Writing is a beautiful way to express oneself. I am Ali and am currently a senior pursuing mechanical and aerospace engineering. So I write, build rockets and do a lot of math :)  [+]

Image of Short Story
It all started with a misunderstanding,
And here we were on our knees in the Afghan desert, guns pointed at us in the scorching heat of a 120 degrees sun, moments away from being silenced forever.
I still remember it was the 4th of May; the finals week. I was excited that the summer was approaching. I was exhausted from taking six classes along with research and was, therefore, looking forward to the 3 weeks break we were getting before the start of summer classes. It was my best friend Mark’s idea that we should take a trip. While the idea of relaxing on a beach while sipping some smoothie sounded appealing, I know I couldn’t spend that much as my bank account was soon to near depletion to summer tuition.
Mark although, had that wicked world-conquering smile on his face. He said that he had found tickets to Thailand with one of those special prices which are low due to the long duration of the flights and them being on days people don’t usually travel. I asked how much, he replied 85 bucks roundtrip. I was excited, told myself that’s not too much. I could already feel that cool breeze of the ocean. I said let’s do it. So, we bought the ticket, prepared a 12-day itinerary for our trip and set out to the airport on the Monday following finals.
So, we got on a flight which was 35 hours one way and would go through Egypt, and Afghanistan, before finally reaching Thailand. The first part of the flight was not bad, a 7 hours journey. Little did we know that different fate awaited us in Egypt. When we were in line standing for our next connecting flight, the Egyptian flight attendant looked at my ticket and with a surprise on her face said, “Ali Stan?”, I said, “Uhh, yes that’s me”. She flurried back, made a call and came back. She said, “Sir thanks for traveling with us, we have upgraded your air tickets to first-class”. I was shocked and excited, I should have thought better, but I and my friends were so excited that we didn’t reconsider the reason they did it.
Well, we enjoyed the royal experience we received until we reached Afghanistan. Over there we had a 12-hour layover and were surprised to see a group of people present to receive us. They greeted us and said, they were very pleased that we chose their airline and were there to escort us to a hotel for our layover. We thought, well maybe we were receiving this attention because of our first-class ticket. The second hint that something was not in place, was when in the car the big bearded man said that my dad was a really great guy and enjoyed talking to him in Iran. Well, I didn’t give it much thought since my dad had been to Iran for a pilgrimage tour a couple of years back and he is a very friendly person. After like 10 mins of driving, everything blacked out, my ears were ringing, and I was upside down.
We had been in a wreck. Something had hit us from the side, and we had rolled over. I called for Mark, I could hear people shouting I could not understand what was said, but the driver and the Arab guy we were talking to some men and then shortly left running when they drew out guns. I and my Mark were then pulled out of the wreck. I was still semi-conscious and from what I remembered, Mark was crying, while I was only able to perceive the bumpy motions of the jeep, we were in.
When I was fully awake and aware of my situation, we were in a room and it was, I could feel the sand in my dry mouth and bruises on my hands due to tight ropes on them. It was afternoon, I guessed it must be 5 hours since our flight landed. A man then came, wearing a long white robe and red and white turban. Mark was pleading, that something is wrong, it’s all a mistake, we hadn’t done anything. The guy looked at me and said in broken English, your father is responsible for the situation we are in, they won’t leave our land and has starved while enriching himself and his king. I tried to explain I wasn’t aware of what he was saying. He tried to slap me, but the other man stopped him and told him something. “We will have our revenge”, he proclaimed, “The chief will kill you and your white friend, in public and we will send the video to your father”. I freaked the hell out, started crying and apologized profusely and said my dad hadn’t done anything wrong and pleaded to let us go.
They put black masks on us and took us out. They made us stand on our knees and I could feel the cold barrel of a rifle against my forehead. I heard an old man’s voice, “Ali, it’s been a while, isn’t it? you are a fool to travel through Afghanistan again”. “I will behead you with my father’s sword and my kids and village shall have their peace”. I started to cry, and he grew silent. I could feel him closing in quickly and saw my life flash quickly before my eyes apprehending the touch of the blade.
Instead of a hit on my neck, I felt a tug as my mask was removed. He appeared shocked, he turned around and shouted something in Arabic, then followed by a phrase in broken English saying who the heck is this guy? There was confusion among the men there and they started to scuttle. I was still processing my vision which was stunned due to the bright light after the sudden removal of mask. The cover was put again, and we were shoved into a jeep. I was scared but sort of relieved to be still alive. There was shouting during the entire journey and then we were pushed out of the jeep while they suddenly turned and drove away. I heard a voice shouting at us hold down a warning to shoot us. I lay down on the ground and shouted: “Help”! Suddenly, I heard the noise of a Humvee approach us and three men get out. They yelled who were we. Recognizing the American accent, I said, my name is Ali Stark and I and my friend are US citizens. They checked us to see if we were carrying something and then removed our headcovers.
As soon as I saw those red, white and blue colors with stars on that soldiers’ shoulders, I broke down and started to cry. The man radioed for help and we were carried over in the Humvee to the army base. We were provided with cold water and the sergeant debriefed us and asked us questions for about an hour. He made a few calls and then came back and scold at us saying, “You told them your name was Ali Stan?”, I was confused, I denied, I said I told them Ali Stark. Well, not to the Afghans and Egyptians. For them, you were Ali Stan, son of the Saudi businessman and crown’s minister Kamal Pasha. Everything then dawned on me, everything started to make sense, the free upgrade, the escort. He explained to us Kamal Pasha had business dealings in Egypt and the airline thought they would gain favor in his eyes by treating his son well. While in this area the Saudis' actions, led by Kamal Pasha have led to the destruction of many villages. They kidnapped us as soon as they found that Pasha’s son was in Afghanistan.
The sergeant assured us we were safe now and that they were making arrangements to send us back on our flight after doing some medical checks. We calmed down after we reached our hotel in Thailand and decided not to tell our parents for the fear of worrying them and barring us from any future trips. We tried to enjoy our trip and relax but were still in shock. We had our first laugh when in a restaurant local Thai girl teased me as Prince Ali, like my friends in states do, but now for me and Mark, it had an entirely new meaning. That was when we sighed and were finally relieved fully realizing that the entire thing was over. We completed our trip and never said a word to anyone. Those rope marks I had, we explained as an incident from rope climbing. From all this debacle I did learn one lesson which resulted in a habit that still gets me weird looks anytime I fly.
I always spell my name with all letters as “A-L-I S-T-A-R-K” whenever someone asks for it.

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